The apparel industry continues to be a hotbed of innovation, with activity driven by comfort and technology, and the growing importance of technologies such as breathable garments and blended fabrics. In the last three years alone, there have been over 32,000 patents filed and granted in the apparel industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Environmental sustainability in Apparel: Breathable sports garments.

However, not all innovations are equal and nor do they follow a constant upward trend. Instead, their evolution takes the form of an S-shaped curve that reflects their typical lifecycle from early emergence to accelerating adoption, before finally stabilising and reaching maturity.

Identifying where a particular innovation is on this journey, especially those that are in the emerging and accelerating stages, is essential for understanding their current level of adoption and the likely future trajectory and impact they will have.

20+ innovations will shape the apparel industry

According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which plots the S-curve for the apparel industry using innovation intensity models built on over 13,000 patents, there are 20+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Within the emerging innovation stage, heat reflector clothing, UV-treated garments, and recycled material shoes are disruptive technologies that are in the early stages of application and should be tracked closely. Arylene nanofibre clothing and blended aramid fire-resistant fabrics are the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily increasing. Among maturing innovation areas are anti-microbial undergarment fabrics and breathable sports garments, which are now well established in the industry. 

Innovation S-curve for environmental sustainability in the apparel industry

Breathable sports garments is a key innovation area in environmental sustainability

Polyester is a synthetic fabric that finds significant application in the manufacturing of sportswear. It is breathable and light in weight and as a result, is used in activewear. 

GlobalData’s analysis also uncovers the companies at the forefront of each innovation area and assesses the potential reach and impact of their patenting activity across different applications and geographies. According to GlobalData, there are 30+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established apparel companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of breathable sports garments.

Key players in breathable sports garments – a disruptive innovation in the apparel industry

‘Application diversity’ measures the number of different applications identified for each relevant patent and broadly splits companies into either ‘niche’ or ‘diversified’ innovators.

‘Geographic reach’ refers to the number of different countries each relevant patent is registered in and reflects the breadth of geographic application intended, ranging from ‘global’ to ‘local’.

Patent volumes related to breathable sports garments

Company Total patents (2010 - 2021) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
NIKE 373 Unlock company profile
Wacoal Holdings 53 Unlock company profile
Under Armour 52 Unlock company profile
FALKE 41 Unlock company profile
Artemis 35 Unlock company profile
Christian Wenger 29 Unlock company profile
Berkshire Hathaway 26 Unlock company profile
Pentland Group Holdings 25 Unlock company profile
ASICS 22 Unlock company profile
adidas 20 Unlock company profile
Decathlon 17 Unlock company profile
Eldridge Industries 16 Unlock company profile
Hanesbrands 15 Unlock company profile
Amer Sports 15 Unlock company profile
Toray Industries 13 Unlock company profile
DashAmerica 13 Unlock company profile
Mizuno 13 Unlock company profile
New Balance 12 Unlock company profile
ROKA Sports 12 Unlock company profile
Fox Head 11 Unlock company profile
Trere' Innovation 10 Unlock company profile
Sanko Holding 10 Unlock company profile
Goldwin 10 Unlock company profile
Boardriders 9 Unlock company profile
Authentic Brands Group 7 Unlock company profile
W. L. Gore & Associates 7 Unlock company profile
Cupid Foundations 6 Unlock company profile
Thuasne 5 Unlock company profile
Gunze 5 Unlock company profile
Shimano 5 Unlock company profile
State Grid Information and Telecommunication 5 Unlock company profile
Koch Industries 5 Unlock company profile
ASSOS of Switzerland 5 Unlock company profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

The leading players in the breathable garments space in terms of patents filed are NIKE, Wacoal, Under Armour, FALKE, and Artemis. NIKE’s Dri-Fit technology comprises a polyester fabric that helps those who wear it by keeping them dry during their workouts and sporting activities. Dri-Fit's microfibre composition supports the natural cooling system of the body. It wicks away sweat and disperses it across the fabric’s surface to enable faster evaporation.

Berkshire Hathaway is the leading player in the market in terms of application diversity, followed by Koch Industries, Thuasne, Trere' Innovation, and Adidas.

The top players in terms of geographic reach are Berkshire Hathaway, Eldridge Industries, Hanesbrands, FALKE, and Artemis.

With the COVID-19 pandemic amplifying consumer concerns regarding their health and fitness, consumers have been becoming more inclined towards exercise and sports. Also, rising temperatures and heatwaves around the world will result in people sweating more. These factors will drive the demand for breathable garments in the future.

To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the apparel industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Apparel.

GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.

GlobalData’s Patent Analytics tracks patent filings and grants from official offices around the world. Textual analysis and official patent classifications are used to group patents into key thematic areas and link them to specific companies across the world’s largest industries.